The Indonesian Story. Tell me I am just imagining.

I am a market researcher. One of my main roles is to provide my clients with the understanding of Indonesian consumers. A very interesting job may I say. Tough work, nonetheless.

With so many layers to dig to understand how Indonesian consumers select their products and brands, where does one should start? I say, culture. What else? Understanding culture is an important step to understand the attitude toward product category as well as attitude toward brands for Indonesian consumers. Culture gives the products and brands the air to live. The rivers to swim.

Simply put culture is the accumulation of shared meanings, rituals, norms and traditions among the member of a society. Although many of us often think the culture more in terms of the tangible products (artifact), the more important things are the ones that live in us: the narration. The Indonesian stories. Because, to be relevant, products and brands should know how to incorporate themselves in such stories.

My recent research is basically about unraveling those stories. I look at major themes in our cultural events, our unique mythologies and our pop cultures. I see something there. It may not a pretty sight but it is reflection of what our stories made out. At least in my eyes as the mirror.

“Be naughty; be bad in your younger age. It doesn’t really matter.
In your adulthood find away to accumulate wealth. We do not really care how. But make sure you share it with group of people.
Show us your success by displaying material health, then we grant you respect. But of course we will talk about you in your back.”

Sad? Let’s face it.

Major themes in every reunion or even father to child conversation is how in their younger age, they used to be bad. Regardless, they were actually a good kid, but their stories are mainly about their juveniles.
This can be traced through many of Indonesian tales where the heroes are actually problem kids.
The down side of this theme, that somehow this attitude can change when they grow older.
In essence, Indonesian trust that time will solve all their problems. This shows that our locus control is external. We attribute the good things or bad things that happen to us on fate, luck or other external force.
We do not really see ourselves as master of our destiny. Thus, we do not really appreciate the process, the hard works. We cut corners in hoping that fate will take care of everything.
A lot of Indonesian tales agree with this. A simple luck can change the person instantly.

Our values as an adult is measured by how well we can display our material wealth. An universal things, I guess. But what troubles me is the fact that we as society do not really care on how people get rich. We even envy the corruptors.
This is low trust society. Everybody think that others are thieves, so why don’t I.
In this low trust society, one needs a high sense of security. As marketers, I know Indonesian consumers are very gullible. High need to display material wealth while deep down they are very insecure. This is where mass product finds its place. One can never be wrong in a mass.

At the end, the ultimate goal as society member is being respected. We crave for respects because in this society respect is rare commodity. In other words, people are not respectful to each other unless there is something to it. The easiest way to see this is in our streets. One of the root cause for the messy traffic is because people do not respect others and law.

As respect has levels, I find that even we crave for the lowest level of respect, namely simple recognition. A sense that our peers know us. We are on the loop. No body want to be left behind. Again, products or brands which are able to place themselves as prop of group belonging are prevail.

As I dig further, I find that Indonesians are not at ease with who they are. We know that something wrong with us. We deal with this feeling by a defense mechanism namely “others are worse”. Thus, we like to talk about other flaws. Somehow it helps to feel good about ourselves. The key learning for marketers is not about the talking behind the back. But more on the never met need to feel good.

Pretty bleak huh? But I guess this is a marketers’ heaven.

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1 Response to The Indonesian Story. Tell me I am just imagining.

  1. James P says:

    Lovely insight! You write very well too. Interesting to read about the dynamics at play in Indonesian society.

    Do you have a personal profile somewhere – LinkedIn, etc?

    I’m a British digital marketer / entrpreneur, arriving in Indonesia soon, for travels and possibly a long-term living stay later on. It would be nice to connect!

    Kind regards,


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